The Institute for Protein Innovation (IPI) is the brainchild of scientist and entrepreneur Timothy A. Springer, Ph.D., a professor at Harvard University and Boston Children’s Hospital.
In 1977, Springer was a postdoc in the laboratory of famed Nobel Laureate César Milstein, known for his development of monoclonal antibodies as a disruptive protein technology. Springer deployed monoclonal antibodies in his research, paving the way for antibodies therapies for autoimmune diseases, and later founded nine companies based on his research, including the biotech Moderna.
Tapping this entrepreneurial spirit and recognizing the limits of a for-profit company, Springer joined forces with Harvard Medical School professor Andrew Kruse in 2017 to launch IPI.
Together, they recognized a central problem in biological research and designed a nonprofit enterprise to fill an unmet, pressing need.
Antibodies make up nearly half of all drugs on the market. But despite their promise, they still face major hurdles.
Traditionally, investigators produce antibodies by injecting mice or other lab animals with a specific target protein. However, this system of polyclonal antibody production has fundamental limitations. If an antigen is highly conserved, or nearly identical, between species, an animal’s T cells will not recognize it as a foreign organism. In this case, no immune response is triggered and no antibodies are generated, rendering the target intractable.
Additionally, antibodies and antibody reagents sold on the market often fail to provide reliable results. This reproducibility crisis interferes with pivotal antibody-based research and impedes progress in protein science and therapeutic development.
Facing this dearth of high-quality, well-characterized antibodies, Springer teamed up with co-founder Andrew Kruse, a Harvard-based expert on G protein-coupled receptors and synthetic antibodies. who had developed yeast display technology as a novel way to generate epitope-specific monoclonal antibodies.
The two consulted with stakeholders from all sectors and determined that their goal of generating synthetic, recombinant antibodies against human extracellular and secreted proteins, particularly those that are difficult to make or target, would be best met as a nonprofit research institute. The result was IPI, launched in 2017 in the heart of Boston’s biological research nexus.
Today, IPI remains a freestanding nonprofit partnering with researchers at Harvard Medical School, Boston Children’s Hospital, Oxford University and more. In 2020, the Institute licensed its first antibody.
In 2021, IPI’s Board of Directors — previously headed by Springer — elected Samantha Singer as chair of the Board. With marked success at the Broad Institute, Biogen, Third Rock Ventures and startup Abata Therapeutics, Singer will help IPI realize its vision as a hybrid academic-industry institute.
Later in 2021, IPI’s inaugural executive director Alex Burgin was tapped by the Broad Institute’s Center for Development and Therapeutics. Rob Meijers, director of IPI’s antibody platform, stepped into the role of interim executive director. With more than a decade of experience in protein production and characterization, Meijers aims to elevate the IPI platform and enable the Institute to equip researchers with essential protein tools.
IPI through the years
Tim Springer hatches the idea of IPI, hosting the first Board meeting in his home.
IPI hires its first employee.
With its yeast display library completed, IPI officially launches.
IPI relocates to the Harvard Medical School campus.
IPI hires Alex Burgin as its first executive director.
IPI licenses its first antibody and launches its antibody validation campaign.
IPI appoints Rob Meijers as interim executive director and elects Samantha Singer as new Board chair.